Future Transportation – We Have Much to Learn


Suntory Mermaid - Wave-Powered Ship

I was enthralled by an article that appeared in Practical Boat Owner (Britain’s biggest selling yachting magazine) on a ship that is currently making its way, carrying a single pilot, from Hawaii to Japan, powered only by waves.  (link)   I read much of the sailor’s website (link), and although the English translation is almost inscrutable, it appears to say that solar cells provide electricity for a ham radio and a satellite phone, and that a hydrofoil suspended ahead of the catamaran creates a force that pulls it in the direction of oncoming waves at a rate of perhaps 2-4 knots, depending on wave height, in a manner similar to the way a dolphin kicks its tail.  A 1 meter wave height is mentioned as a design parameter.  It also has a single mast, and can use a sail for emergency power, though the intent is to make the journey on wave power.  Interestingly, it appears to say the original concept was developed in 1895, and concept testing was done in the 1980’s.  The catamaran design was developed more recently at a university in Japan and tested in a wave tank. 

This certainly underlines that we have much yet to learn.  Imagine if non-time sensitive deliveries of ocean freight could be made on wave energy alone! It might take 6 months for that load of work boots to arrive, but you can’t beat the energy efficiency.  Could this be the wave of the future?

Another commercial I have been glad to see appearing on TV is one in which a railroad company says they can carry a ton of freight 413 miles on a single gallon of fuel.  That’s like getting 206 mpg on your 2 ton car … amazing!  Over the past 150 years, huge amounts of energy were spent creating railways, hewing passes and tunnels through mountains and building over and underpasses for other types of vehicular traffic.  In my lifetime I have seen many of these rights of way fall into disuse and become abandoned.  I would not be surprised to see those right-of-ways being outfitted with new tracks, and new, lightweight and highly efficient trains begin running on them in the next few decades.  Most of the big investment has already been done, and, while it won’t be cheap since we let this infrastructure go for so long, it will still be very cost effective to replace as much auto and truck traffic as possible with rail transportation in the future.  We have much to learn here also.

When systems like this are combined with an increasingly virtual, internet-driven economy, it draws an interesting picture of where we might go in order to achieve sustainability.  There are many more ideas out there, and many more to be dreamed up and made practical, and I am excited to watch (and hopefully be involved in making) it happen.

As always, I welcome your comments.  If you can read Japanese, and read the wave-powered sailor’s website, feel free to correct me or add interesting facts I was unable to discern from the English side of his website.  Thanks in advance.

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